A Christmas Prince - The Royal Baby
Released in 2017, A Christmas Prince was a curious phenomenon with unsuspecting viewers swept away on its tidal wave of cheesiness. It was the beginnings of the now familiar Netflix genre of highly watchable awfulness, those mental screensavers that fall somewhere between the schmaltz of the Hallmark Channel and a very creaky American soap opera.
This third(!) instalment in the series sees intrepid reporter turned monarch, Amber and her prince Richard eagerly awaiting the arrival of their first born, who disappointingly is a regular infant and not the ovary-crushing, social media sensation, Baby Yoda - the only baby that truly matters this festive season.
Scorsese's The Irishman might be the frontrunner in Netflix's award strategy this year but Noah Baumbach's beautifully observed Marriage Story may be the one to walk away with the prestigious bounty for the streaming service. Starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, it's the unflinching story of the dissolution of a relationship between an unfulfilled actress and an ambitious dramatist. As Johansson's Nicole moves to LA to pursue a role on a television pilot while her ex Charlie continues to work within his burgeoning theatre company in New York, their agreeable divorce turns acrimonious, clashing over the welfare and future plans for their young son.
Baumbach manages to distill the emotional, wrenching essence of his previous, more acerbic work and funnel it into this moving portrait of a once desirable partnership disintegrating and the fractious aftermath of divorce. Stuffed with supporting talent including the wonderful Alan Alda, Merrit Weaver, Ray Liotta and a scene stealing turn from Laura Dern, Marriage Story is shot through with Baumbach's trademark wit and wry observations,ensuring that it isn't a syrupy, sentimental weepy.
What could have been a modern version of Kramer vs Kramer becomes instead a sharp, incisive look at the duality, and certain cognitive dissonance that is required for successful relationships. The emotional heft comes from the humanity and empathy felt for both characters (although some may feel the narrative is slightly weighed in Driver’s character’s favour) the raw, affecting performances from Johansson and Driver are sure to grant them several deserving accolades come awards season.
The Confession Killer
Just as Making A Murderer became the true-crime sleeper hit of the festive period in 2015, The Confession Killer is Netflix’s latest attempt at capturing the Christmas conversation with this unbelievable docuseries.
Drifter Henry Lee Lucas confessed to 600 unsolved murders in the early 80s, making him one of the most prolific serial killers in history. The documentary follows Lucas’s story from early infamy to seeing him ingratiate himself with members of the police force earning almost folk-hero status as he aided them with the murder cases that he had taken responsibility for.
As cold cases were closed and families informed that their loved ones murders had been resolved, questions were raised about the veracity of Lucas’s claims and the willingness of the police force to believe his version of events. It’s a story about corruption, the American justice system, the strange idolatry of murderers and the suspended state of purgatory that becomes the lives of the victims families.
Michelle Wolf: Joke Show
Following her short-lived show The Break, Michelle Wolf returns to Netflix with this one-off, one hour special covering everything from gender equality, the extremes of outrage culture, animal sex, and how perhaps modern society shouldn't strive to be so "woke".
From the brain of Michael Bay comes this latest flashy, action-romp starring Ryan Reynolds, Ben Hardy and Melanie Laurent. With a plot that sounds like a significantly dumbed down version of the Wachowski's Netflix original Sense8, it sees six individual operatives from around the globe, led by "One" (Reynolds) who become untraceable by faking their own deaths to defeat a shadowy dictator and restore justice to the world. It's the usual car-crashing, explosion frenzy, crazy Bayhem from the popcorn cinema king with the romantic, historic vistas of Italy and the skyscrapers of the United Arab Emirates being used as his demolition playground this time around.
Don’t F***k With Cats - Hunting an Internet Killer
This three-part documentary tells the story of Canadian murderer Luka Magnotta who came to the attention of the internet community after he posted disturbing videos of himself torturing animals. A cyber manhunt ensued in 2012 when Magnotta, high on his new found notoriety, killed Chinese student Jun Lin, filming the murder and then posting it on a website for his "fans".
Produced by All3Media, the company responsible for the smash documentary Three Identical Strangers and directed by Mark Lewis (Silk Road: Drugs, Death And The Dark Web) it’s a cautionary tale about the dark side of the internet but also one that champions the resourcefulness of the armchair sleuths, strangers in cyberspace who banded together intent on tracking Magnotta down.
Netflix's new fantasy epic is based on the best-selling novels by Andrzej Sapowski and stars ex-Superman Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter (or Witcher) an outcast gladiator with supernatural powers. Sporting a Legolas-esque grey wig, Cavill's Witcher wanders through a volatile world full of mysterious threats and dangerous creatures, on his journey he meets a young princess with a dark secret, Ciri (Freya Allan) and an enchanting supreme sorceress, Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) All three must learn to navigate this new realm together or risk annihilation.
The Witcher's showrunner, screenwriter and producer Lauren Schmidt Hissrich (Daredevil) has drafted in luminaries such as Alik Sakharov (Game of Thrones) and Charlotte Brandstrom (Outlander) to direct the series, giving the show a welcome feminised edge to the macho, hyper-sexualised fantasy genre.
The Two Popes
In this heavy-weight two-hander inspired by true events, director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) goes behind the Vatican walls to imagine the private meetings between Pope Benedict XVI, formerly the Austrian Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins) and the Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), as Pope Benedict ponders retirement and the idea of nominating a successor.
A conversational joust through the pair's opposing ideologies and world view, the Two Popes is an actor’s sermon with Pryce and Hopkins relishing the big gestures and poignant pauses of the script as they pick apart philosophies and semantics in three acts. Interwoven within these verbal duels are flashbacks to Bergoglio’s past in Argentina during the military dictatorship in the 1970s as well as television reports on the sexual abuse scandals and the financial misappropriation of funds within the Church, the sobering reality that serves as a backdrop to the sermonising and pontificating. A film about tradition, renewal, redemption and reform told with passion, fury and surprising humour, The Two Popes is the theological bromance no-one expected.
John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch
John Mulaney's latest comedy special comes in the form of a children's variety show. It's an even more hipster version of Sesame Street by way of the traditional American touchstone of the kindly Mr Rogers where Mulaney employs the talents of some of his celebrity pals including Natasha Lyonne, Jake Gyllenhaal and David Byrne to help him perform sketches, sing songs and make a papier-mâché volcano, in what could be the most wholesome, joyous hour of television this anxiety-ladened year.
You - Season 2
This stalker drama became a surprise seasonal hit for Netflix with millions of viewers gripped by the hapless Beck and her inability to buy some curtains to avoid Joe’s creepy gaze. The tepid erotic-thriller became a social media/word of mouth hit with its convoluted plotlines and over the top characters (who could forget Peach Salinger?) recalling prime teen film fodder like Fear, Swimfan and The Crush.
Back for a second season, Joe (Penn Badgley) has now relocated from New York to LA and has found a new object of his obsessive affections, the aptly named Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) although with his ex Candace (Ambyr Childers) still popping up, it looks like Joe won’t be able to completely escape his past or the person he once was.